Nevada opens the season Thursday night at home in a not-so-highly anticipated matchup with UC Davis.
It would be ridiculous to deem the season opener a must-win, but with a brutal following non-conference schedule (vs. Arizona, at Texas A&M and at Buffalo) and conference games at Utah State and at San Diego State, a loss would be a serious blow to the Wolf Pack’s bowl aspirations this fall.
The two teams last squared off in 2013, a 36-7 Nevada rout at home. The Pack leads the all-time series 29-21-3.
Nevada scheduled an FCS opponent in last year’s opener, Southern Utah, but didn’t exactly impress in a 28-19 victory.
Kickoff Thursday night at Mackay Stadium is at 7 p.m.
About the Aggies
Conference Affiliation: Big Sky (FCS)
Coach: Ron Gould, third season (7-16)
2014 Finish: 2-9, 1-7 (last place)
Returning Starters: 19
Quarterback: Junior Ben Scott took over midway through the 2014 season and earned All-Big Sky Honorable Mention. He averaged 247 passing yards a contest in the seven games (six starts) he saw action. He threw 19 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions.
Dangerous Weapon: Wide out Ramon Vargas (6-3) enters his senior season after a strong junior campaign. In just seven games (four starts) he led the team in receptions (41), yards (665), average yards per reception (16.5) and touchdowns (8).
What to look for
Stewart’s outing: This one is obvious. Nevada’s quarterback battle was the biggest story line throughout spring and fall camp. Tyler Stewart, the only candidate with game experience, earned the nod over redshirt-freshman Hunter Fralick largely due to said experience. Look for Stewart to have a fairly-lengthy leash with games against Arizona and Texas A&M coming. Polian would rather see a junior deal with the Pac-12 and SEC than a freshman and would prefer to have Stewart earn some confidence going into those matchups.
Defensive secondary: The Wolf Pack was brutal against the pass a season ago. Nevada allowed more than 266 yards a game through the air last fall, good for 112th in the nation, and UC Davis has a genuine aerial threat with the Scott-Vargas connection. The battle between Scott and Nevada’s young secondary (two redshirt freshmen, a sophomore and a junior) will be one of the game’s determining factors.
The Union: Nevada’s offensive line is nearly as young as its secondary. Thursday’s staring five will feature three sophomores and two juniors. The progress of the line will obviously be pivotal in giving new starter, Stewart, some time to work with in the pocket, but also in establishing a run game spearheaded by senior Don Jackson and sophomore James Butler—one of the best running back tandems in the Mountain West. Stewart, and the offensive line, will face an experienced defensive group that returns nine starters.
Worst-case scenario, Nevada squeaks out four wins this season. Best-case scenario, it wins eight. The four-game window shows just how much we don’t know about this year’s squad with an abundance of youth in the secondary, a new quarterback and a defense suddenly expected to carry much of the load. Either way, it’s hard to imagine the Pack dropping this one.
Nevada 27, UC Davis 17